R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Top Ten Things to be Thankful for in 2007

Let’s face it, 2007 hasn’t been the best year for movies. I know I’ve harped on the Summer a lot, but it really should have been an amazing string of awesome instead of one long toy commercial starring Spider-Man, Venom, Captain Jack Sparrow, and Optimus Prime. Then again, other Popcorn fare like The Condemned, Pathfinder, and Shooter ended up just insulting my intelligence and my good taste instead of entertaining me. But that’s not all.

More Horror classics ended up being raped and pillaged this Summer, as Rob Zombie’s Halloween ended up padding a film that already had a perfect length, then rushed the parts that we actually did like and then just disgusted us with how much he just didn’t get the original. This had to compete with The Hitcher for worst remake of 2007, as it added needless gore and a soundtrack that belonged on a WB teen drama, not in a movie about a horrible psychopath. The Invasion ranks as a distant third, as it really didn’t end up insulting us as much as it just bored us to death.

Then to add fuel to the fire there were plenty of prestige pictures that ended up cinematic duds instead reaching for Oscar gold. We‘ll all be thankful that Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Rendition, and Lions for Lambs finally came out, only for the reason that we won’t have to sit through their trailers anymore when we’re waiting for films we actually want to see. Soon, they’ll all just be forgotten entirely though, sitting next to other big movies through the years that failed to enthrall or stimulate.

Finally, there’s the Writer’s strike, which is already hurting my Television rotation and could also end up hurting my movie going as well. 2008 looks to have a strong lineup so far, but who knows what could happen if this strike goes on for months and months and Producers start to get desperate. Hollywood’s output already isn’t ideal, but please people, lets not make things worse.

To borrow a phrase from The Sopranos’ Paulie Walnuts, sometimes I think “They can take 2007, and give it back to the Indians! Then again, that would dismiss an enormous amount of insane triumphs that came out this year. All year long I’ve been putting films in my Top 10, just to see them go as other films blow me away and knock them out of contention. So in honor of Thanksgiving, here’s my list of the things I’ve been thankful for this year.

Top Ten Things to be Thankful for in 2007

10. Homer on the Big Screen – Finally, after years and years and years, of the two animated heroes that finally made it to the silver screen in 2007, it wasn’t Optimus Prime who really delivered, it was America’s favorite animated Dad; Homer Simpson. The Simpsons Movie may not end up winning any Oscars (though you never know), but by God, it was one hell of a treat to sit and laugh at the big guy and all of the citizens of Springfield for a hilarious 90 minutes. Not only that, but the movie had real heart on top of everything else, which is why we’ve really come to love The Simpsons anyway.

9. Judd Apatow – Speaking of heart and hilarity, Judd Apatow came at us with a double shot of both in 2007, and ended up making two comedies that shamed most of the others that hit screens. Yeah, both movies are packed with f-bombs and horny girls, but Knocked Up and Superbad both came down to lovable schlubs who showed us what great guys us lovable schlubs can be (because we are pretty great). This isn’t to say these movies aren’t packed with jokes, because Apatow seems to have a gift for humorous dialogue that is completely eluding most writers of Comedies these days. When I think of the prospect of another Scary Movie or the like, I get chills down my spine and depression hits me for a few seconds, but at least I know Apatow’s out there creating his next Comedy classic.

8. 3-D – I saw two movies in 3-D this year, and I hope 2008 has a whole slew of new ones for me to check out (except that Brendan Frasier one that looks absolutely terrible). While I had seen A Nightmare Before Christmas before, catching it in 3-D brought new life to the movie. I can’t wait to keep checking it out year after year, because I hear that Disney plans on re-releasing it every Halloween until it becomes unprofitable. Then came Beowulf, which ends up on this list because it represented a whole new experience for me in the theaters. The difference between these two films is that Nightmare was already an existing film that was converted to 3-D. Beowulf was created for the format and shows just how awesome the 3-D experience can really be. After decades of using the technology, Robert Zemekis’ film represents the first time the medium has reached its full potential, and its going to be fascinating to see where its going to go in the future.

7. RR and QT – From a brand new experience to one that must have been familiar to many who saw it in the theater, Grindhouse represented some of the best fun to be had at the movies this year. Screw CGI web-slinging and tired Pirate jokes, we’re talking 3 hours of uproarious gags, gore, and ridiculous stunt work. The car chase at the end of Death Proof was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and Planet Terror was 80 minutes of pure awesome, from several of the best one-liners I’ve heard all year (“Some of the best jokes are about cripples”) to the over the top heroics of Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray and Rose McGowan’s Cherry Darling.

6. Insane Gunfights – What is it these days that makes it so hard just to get a decent action scene on screen? From shaky cam to PG-13 editing, you would think the heyday of Action was over. Then 2007 goes and gives me Hot Fuzz and Shoot’em Up, which finally remind me why I loved sitting through all those Stallone and Schwarzenegger epics when I was a kid, and why I eventually loved John Woo Action flicks more than any other. Both of these movies took many of my favorite archetypes and just ran with them, with one-liners and armies of bad guys that went down in ridiculous hails of gunfire.

5. The 1970’s – Two movies this year actually took multiple decades, but their hearts were both mainly in the ‘70’s. Both films brought the decade to light with stunning clarity and realism. Zodiac, is a masterpiece of setting by David Fincher. The film looked and felt as if the director didn’t make a film about the 70’s, it was like he actually went back in time and just made the film there and then released it in 2007. Ridley Scott’s American Gangster then almost repeated the same trick, only filling his Gangster Epic/Police Procedural/Blaxploitation film with enough star wattage to power an entire city. Both films were incredible examples of how modern storytelling could transport us to a real time and place and make us feel as if we never left.

4. Sparta!!! – On the other hand, Zach Snyder’s 300 threw the history lesson out the window and instead just entertained the hell out of us. What I love most of all was that this film was the biggest success ever by a rated R film based on a serious Graphic Novel, showing us that a big Action picture like this doesn’t have to be aimed at kids to be a success. I hope this opens up the door for Action flicks that can show us tons of blood sprays and a little nudity and try to entertain us in the same way that this film and old school adventure flicks like Conan the Barbarian used to do.

3. Grit – It was a joy to sit in the theater this year and watch some heroes that actually took themselves seriously instead of just yucking it up or dancing through the streets. I’m talking about the third go round for Jason Bourne and characters like Viggo Mortensen’s Nikolai in Eastern Promises; dudes that have to use their wits as well as breaking a few necks along the way to survive against the bad guys. The Bourne Ultimatum was the most satisfying of the third installment sequels that came out all Summer and had Matt Damon and his stunt men doing some old school roof jumping and some hard nose martial arts and car chases that made any action scenes in Transformers and Spider-Man 3 look like a joke. Viggo Mortensen’s fight scene in the bath house in Eastern Promises was the single most violent fight scene to hit theater screens this year. You can just feel the pain of all three participants as each gets cut up and beaten to a pulp while we watched in amazement.

2. The Return of John McClane (UNRATED) – I guess I could have just thrown McClane in with the other tough guys above, but anyone that reads my column on a regular basis knows what seeing Bruce Willis in his signature role meant to me. Thank God the movie ended up meeting my expectations, and then on DVD in its unrated format, Live Free or Die Hard ended up blowing my expectations to the back of my home theater. This version of the movie is completely awesome, and we really get to see the old John McClane that we know and love back on screen. It’s amazing what a few F-bombs (really there’s a ton of them on this DVD) will do to just make everything seem right with a character. Every “Mother#$@*%^” just ended up putting a big grin on my face as I watched John get the crap kicked out of him, but just keep coming with his fists, his guns, and his wisecracks. Yippee Kai-Yay!

1. Westerns – While I loved checking out grind house movies at home and at the theater, and I loved watching nearly every “Die Hard On A…” flick, no genre delivered for me like the Western did this year, especially at the theater. Nearly every aspect of the genre was represented at the movies this year, and all of them were stunning successes. 3:10 to Yuma was the classic Western in the mold of The Magnificent Seven and High Noon. It stunned me with its awesome gun fights and over the top heroics. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was an incredible anti-Western that broke down the myth of one of America’s greatest outlaws and did so by telling an epic story with some of the greatest cinematography I’ve ever witnessed. Then the modern Western was represented by the Coen Brothers’ amazing No Country for Old Men.

All three movies delivered in a way that I hadn’t really anticipated and all featured some of the best performances of the year. Russell Crowe had an outstanding 2007 in my opinion with 3:10 and American Gangster, and I hope this isn’t the last time I see him on a horse with six shooters in his hand. Plus, Christian Bale comes up with every nuance he ever needed to make his Dan Evans a success, but never goes overboard with the role at all, making his character as natural to the setting as every horse and cowboy hat in the movie.

The Assassination of Jesse James showed me what Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt were capable of in a way I’ve never seen before. The Ocean’s boys blew me away with just how amazing they could be, and both will be hard pressed to be able to top these roles. If it weren’t for the combined efforts of the cast of No Country for Old Men, I’d be campaigning as hard as I possibly could for these two to win Oscars.

As for No Country‘s cast, each of the main leads were born to play the characters that they portray on screen. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem have just been treading water in my opinion until this movie came out. All deserve Oscar consideration and if these three plus the two leads of Assassination of Jesse James walked away with all the prospective awards this coming year some how, I’ll be perfectly happy.

So as 2007 reaches towards its end, let’s cross our fingers and hope 2008 comes out nearly as well, and maybe even ends up a little more consistent. With a lot to look forward to, the year could end up being one of the best ever. Then again, who knows how many duds we have to sit through to really find something to be thankful for.

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